Worshippers celebrate in Jerusalem amid surge in violence

AFP , AP , Ahram Online , Sunday 9 Apr 2023

Thousands of worshippers held tense celebrations in Jerusalem on Sunday, as Christian Easter coincided with Jewish Passover and the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, amid a surge in violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Jerusalem celebrations
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa (C) leads a mass on Easter Sunday at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on April 4, 2023. AFP


Leading Easter mass at the Vatican, Pope Francis expressed "deep concern" Sunday over the flare-up in tensions sparked by an Israeli police raid on Al-Aqsa mosque days ago.

Israel has since struck targets in Gaza, Lebanon and most recently Syria in response to rocket fire mostly blamed on Palestinian militants, while separate attacks in the West Bank and Tel Aviv killed three people including an Italian tourist.

On Sunday, pilgrims crowded into the narrow alleyways of Jerusalem's Old City, flanked by heavily-armed Israeli security forces deployed following the recent deadly attacks.

Churchgoers were ushered through the courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected.

"[I had] some doubt, taking into consideration recent events, but still I decided to go," said 50-year-old Paulius Majauskas, visiting from Lithuania.

Near the church, thousands of Jewish pilgrims gathered at the Western Wall for the traditional priestly blessing of Passover.

Judy Green, 60, said the blessing was "beautiful, very uplifting" at the Western Wall, the holiest place where Jews can pray.

"I feel that God will protect us, we're all praying together as one people," she said.

The Western Wall lies in Israeli occupied east Jerusalem and sits below Al-Haram Al-Sharif.

The raised compound is home to Al-Aqsa mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam and the focal point for Ramadan celebrations.

An AFP journalist saw more than 500 religious Jews enter the site Sunday morning under police escort while Muslims prayed nearby, without any clashes.

This year the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has claimed the lives of at least 92 Palestinians, 18 Israelis, one Ukrainian and one Italian, according to an AFP count based on Israeli and Palestinian official sources.

These figures include, on the Palestinian side, combatants and civilians, including minors, and on the Israeli side, mostly civilians, including minors, and three members of the Arab minority.

*This story was edited by Ahram Online

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